Priorat Wine Region of Spain

Created in 1954, Priorat — named after the 12th century Carthusian Priorato de Scala Dei, the Priory of the Stairway of God, under the auspices of which winemaking began in the region — is one of the highest-esteemed denominations in all of Spain.

  • Vineyards. Vineyards sit at high altitudes, ranging from 100-800 meters, with the best on steep slopes at the higher end of this range.
  • Climate. The climate is dry and warm. Although the elevation brings cooler evenings, this is moderated by heat emanating from the soils and the stabilizing influence of the Mediterranean (only 30 kilometers away).
Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Soils types in Priorat

There are two soil types in Priorat, each of which produces a different style of wine:

  • The denomination is famous for its llicorella soils: volcanic in origin, they consist chiefly of slate, with small levels of mica; these soils stress the vines and conserve heat for optimal grape ripening, producing big wines with bold fruit and intense flavors, with soft, approachable tannins, even when young; they even impart a mineral edge to the resulting wines. Wines from these soils dominate production.
  • At the highest elevations, however, the soils change to red clay; the resulting wines are lighter and more delicate, often with intoxicating aromas.

Both soils exist over a schist foundation, which provides a porous enough material for vines to penetrate for stored rainwater reserves and minerals.

Priorat: Red Wines

Red wines are based chiefly on garnacha and cariñena:

  • The primary grape in Priorat red wine blends is low-yielding old-vine garnacha, which accounts for nearly 40% of vineyard planted area. It produces wines with bold, nuanced fruit, laced with a distinctive mineral (slate) edge. The grape’s thin skins impart minimal tannins, so they must be introduced by vinifying with stems or aging in small oak barrels (225 liters).
  • The aromatic cariñena brings a blueberry, violet nose and dark color.

Although Priorat has gotten a reputation for over-oaking its wines and relying on non-indigenous varieties to enhance the garnacha base, leading winemakers are increasingly returning to more traditional styles of winemaking to bring out the best in their prized garnacha: vinifying in cement tanks; aging in larger barrels; using native yeasts; avoiding destemming; and decreasing the percentage of cabernet sauvignon and syrah in the blend (restoring cariñenato secondary importance).

Overall, they are special wines; although they can lean toward the pricey side, they are worth it for a splurge.

Priorat: White Wines

Although reds are clearly its focus, Priorat does produce a small amount (under 5% of total production) of high quality white wines based on two traditional Catalunyan varieties: garnacha blanca and macabeo.

More information about the Priorat wine region

 

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Wine from Spain: Carinena (Carignan)

Known as carignan in France, the cariñena grape variety (aka mazuelo and samsó) thrives in warm climates, which are required to bring this late-ripening variety to maturity. It is best known for being a small contributor to the great garnacha-based wines of Catalunya’s Priorat and Montsant DOs; in its supporting role, cariñena adds good acidity, dark coloration and a boost of tannins, coupled with bright, unmistakable blueberry and violet notes. That said, while its traditional role has been as a blending grape, it is just starting to be used on its own to make respectable single-varietal wines.

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Carinena…a grape or an appellation?

Carinena is both a grape and an appellation!

Created in 1932, the longstanding Cariñena DO is located southwest of Zaragoza on the border of Calatayud.

  • Vineyards. Vineyards sit in a rolling plain that straddles the Ebro river at 400-800 meters in elevation.
  • Soils. Soils are comprised primarily of limestone, slate and quartz.
  • Climate. The climate is dry and continental, with large fluctuations between day and night temperatures.

Red Wines

Cariñena offers some of the best red values in all of Spain.

  • Red wines are dominated by garnacha. They are executed very well, exhibiting strong aromatics and flavors of blackberries and plums. As in neighbors Calatayud and Campo de Borja, old vines (30-50 years old) are in abundant supply and are responsible for the denomination’s best wines. Overall, Calatayud’s garnachas are perhaps a bit more delicate than those of neighboring Campo de Borja, given the lower mix of clay in the soil.
  • Interestingly, the grape variety that gives its name to the denomination accounts for less than 10% of plantings.
  • Tempranillo-based wines are on the rise, often blended with garnacha for some punch.
  • Rosés are also dependable and made to high quality standards.

Although wines have historically been joven in style, there are some nice crianzas being produced.

White Wines

The dominant white variety is viura (the local name for macabeo), made in a fuller-bodied style.

More Information


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Guide to Godello: Galicia’s Great White Wine

Early-ripening, normal-skinned godello (aka verdello) is another up-and-comer and one of our favorite whites. Godello-based wines have the big fruit and acidity of albariño (peaches, citrus, apple), but with a bit more body and slightly higher alcohol. While Galicia’s star albariño grape has become increasingly well known internationally, godello continues to fall below most consumers’ radar screens; this has served to make godellos excellent values. The best are from Galicia’s Valdeorras and Monterrei DOs and Castilla y León’s Bierzo DO, although quality offerings can also be found in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Ribeiro DOs.

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Wines from Galicia, Spain

Galicia is one of our favorite regions in Spain, due in large part to its tremendous whites based on the albariño and godello varieties. Look to the excellent Rias Baixas DO for albariño and the Valdeorras DO for godello. However, red lovers need not despair: the mencía variety produces high quality wines, with a rich, earthy character. The best mencías are from the Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras DOs.


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Discovering Wines from Spain’s Balearic Islands

While most of the wines from the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera; located off the east coast of Spain) are nothing to actively seek out, the distinctive, full-bodied manto nero grape variety is an exception to this rule and worth trying. We would recommend wines from the Mallorca’s Binissalem DO, specifically. If you are looking for a white, try the local prensal blanc grape which yields light, herbal white wines.

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

About the Balearic’s Binissalem DO

Created in 1991, the Balearic Islands’ Binissalem DO is located on Mallorca, occupying the center of the island.

  • Vineyards. Vineyards sit on a flat plateau at elevations of 250-300 meters.
  • Soils. A rich topsoil of sandy alluvium covers a limestone and clay base; the limestone is critical as it absorbs much-needed moisture for the vines during the island’s dry summer months.
  • Climate. The climate is mild and Mediterranean, with relative stability in intra-day temperatures.

Red Wines

Binissalem is oriented toward red wines, which account for 60-70% of total production.

  • The best reds are based on the indigenous manto negro, which accounts for nearly 40% of total vineyard planted area; all of the denomination’s red wines must include at least 30% of this variety. They are well-suited for extended aging in oak barrels; there is a wide selection of wines at crianza, reserva and even gran reserva designations. They are bold wines with smooth tannins.
  • The denomination also grows cabernet sauvignon, callet, tempranillo, monastrell, syrah and merlot. They are typically blended in varying degrees into manto negro-based wines to add tannins, body and aromatic complexity.

White Wines

Despite its red focus, Binissalem delivers some quality whites wines.

  • The best are based on the indigenous prensal blanc (aka moll), which represents approximately 60% of total white production. Generally simple wines made for immediate consumption, they nevertheless reveal pleasant white fruit aromas and subtle flavors of green apple, ginger, honey, almond and herbs.

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Eating Jamon? Reach for a Cava (Catalunya, Spain)

There a few wines that pair as well as cava sparkling wine and Spain’s famous jamon iberico (click for a detailed guide to jamon iberico).

Map of Spain's wine regions

Map of Spain’s wine regions

Region: Catalunya

Created in 1959, Cava — named for the underground caves in which the wines are crafted — produces Spain’s premier sparkling wines.

  • Vineyards. The production zone is spread out across 159 municipalities in the provinces of Barcelona (63), Tarragona (52), Lleida (12), Girona (5), La Rioja (18), Alava (3), Zaragoza (2), Navarra (2), Valencia (1) and Badajoz (1). That said, 95% is produced in the area between Tarragona and Barcelona, with most cultivation occurring at 200-300 meters in elevation around the city of Sant Sadurní di Anoia in Penedès Central, roughly 20-25 kilometers from the Mediterranean.
  • Soils. Soils are generally sandy and rocky clay over a limestone base.
  • Climate. Although there is fair degree of variation given the expansive landscape over which vines are cultivated, for the most part the climate is warm, wet and Mediterranean.

Cava: Catalunya’s Sparkling White Wine

Cava is based chiefly on the traditional Catalunyan white grape triad consisting of xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada: xarel-lo provides the structuring body and almond flavor notes; macabeo the crisp acidity and herbaceous edge; and parellada the soft, creamy finish.

Although Cava sparklers use different grape varieties, the production method is the same as with French Champagne (méthode Champenoise), in that the wine undergoes its secondary, bubble-creating fermentation in the bottle (rather than in large pressure tanks, as with Italy’s prosecco). As far as a comparison versus France’s Champagnes: while they exhibit similar gentle fruit flavors, good body and underlying creaminess, they are more approachable due to their lower relative acidity.

Cava sparklers spend a minimum of nine months aging on their lees, which affords their flavor profiles greater complexity; after 18 months, wines can be labeled as reserva; after 30 months, they can be labeled as gran reserva.

Best of all: Cavas are the most attractively priced sparkling wines in the world. That said, we recommend opting for the driest available versions — Brut Nature (0-3 grams per liter of residual sugar) or Extra Brut (3-6 grams per liter of residual sugar) — as they best express Cava’s true terroir, showcasing crisp acidity and good minerality.


Learn about the wines of Spain with Approach Guides wine app for iPhone and iPad. The app profiles all of Spain’s winemaking regions, grape varieties, appellations, and vintages, giving you everything you need to know to choose a wine that meets your preferences.